A year of social distancing measures forcing everything from social events and catch-ups to lectures and university open days online has meant that students are now spending more time in front of their computers than ever before.
Many students now rely on the same apps and platforms for their classes as socializing with friends and family. However, the thought of turning to the same digital channels to explore future study choices is sometimes proving a turnoff, making it more difficult for institutions to stand out from the crowd when attracting prospective students online.
In this blog post, we look at how universities can think outside the box when it comes to how they connect with and engage prospective students. For those who may be feeling digital fatigue after a year spent mainly online, how can you create an engaging digital journey?
#1 Picking and mixing new digital platforms for effective online engagement
After 12 months into a pandemic, and it's fair to say that most of us are starting to feel the over-use of standard video conferencing apps. Yet, when engaging prospective students in workshops, open days, virtual campus visits, and conversations with student ambassadors and faculty, options like Zoom are the first things institutions think to facilitate these kinds of interactions.
For universities wanting to stand out from the crowd, providing unique, imaginative, and quirky solutions for connecting with students can often pay off, as long as the platforms used can still deliver the levels of quality and professionalism required.
One unique and user-friendly new app which is shaking up how people use video conferencing software such as Zoom and Google Meet is mmhmm, founded by Phil Libin of Evernote fame.
The handy mmhmm app lets you have a bit of fun with presentations and videos. It allows you to control the backgrounds and to use a pop-up screen to share content, webpages, and even live phone demos seamlessly, without splitting the screen view or requiring the usual awkward pause while you try to share the right screen from your desktop.
The mmhmm app is still relatively new and has a host of new features coming in the next few months to make it even easier for teams to present to and engage students in new ways.
Excitingly, mmhmm can work in combination with the innovative cloud-based events tool Hopin, which is gaining popularity worldwide.
Hopin offers everything you would expect from a live events platform and is used by many Universities and Colleges to deliver more engaging events, tours and interactive webinars. Its session areas for live group breakouts and networking tools that pair people up in one-on-one conversations all ideal features that combine to create engaging events for prospective students and your alumni community.
As well as having in-depth virtual open days and tours throughout you might consider creating bite-sized engagement activities on social channels that give a snapshot of student life. For example, some ideas could include take-overs from faculty, current students, and ambassadors or open Q&A sessions. With Instagram allowing for longer video posts, short-form content, and live sessions, there is a lot of scope for institutions to create content that can showcase what campus life has to offer. This will allow prospective students to dip in and out in their own time and avoid drops in attention span due to digital fatigue.
Taking to social media to showcase university life can be a much more personal way of connecting with prospective students. Many Universities are starting to see work well, particularly when it comes to connecting prospective students with those currently studying.
The University of Northampton, for example, is making great use of its Instagram channel to support activity around open days, creating a range of different content and making tours available through their Instagram Stories. By pinning open day Stories content at the top of their feed, prospective students are able to review content and tours from students even after the open day or scheduled virtual campus tour date has passed.
Fredonia State also chose Instagram, rather than video conferencing software, as the place to host its annual National Girls & Women In Sports Day event when it needed to be moved online earlier this year. The University's Blue Devil head coaches and student-athletes were available on the channel for an hour each night to answer questions from middle school and high school girls who were considering attending college.
#2 The Personal Touch
In a digitally-focused world, it's easy to forget how engaging one-to-one communication can be. However, with digital fatigue at an all-time high, increasing opportunities for more personalized and intimate communication with prospective students can be a great way to connect and help them gain the information they're looking for quickly and easily.
Taking the time to communicate with prospective students directly, be it over a personal messaging service such as WhatsApp, via social media, or on a conference call, are great ways to offer a more personalized experience.
The one important caveat when messaging using platforms such as Whatsapp is to ensure you communicate using enterprise messaging addons that can securely log the conversation should a complaint be received in the future. Ultimately, one-to-one communications with teenagers will require that you follow specific rules, laws, and best practices.
However, with younger generations now increasingly turning to audio-only social channels and content, the humble telephone call has also risen in popularity. It can be another great way to reach out directly while also remaining un-intrusive.
If you're keen to learn more about the audio social trend, and how institutions can utilize audio social channels for students, you can view our blog post on the topic here.
#3 Using gamification techniques to inform and engage students
As the gaming industry continues to thrive and permeate popular culture amongst youth audiences, there has been an increase in the number of consumer brands incorporating gamification and gaming brand partnerships into their marketing campaigns.
Fashion & beauty brands have been especially quick to jump on the trend as a way to engage consumers online. Last year, beauty brand Lancôme created an augmented reality game in Hong Kong to celebrate Chinese New Year, and in 2019, luxury fashion brand Karl Lagerfeld took inspiration from retro arcade game Pacman for the launch of its digital competition giveaway, which gave website visitors the chance to play as an 8-bit Choupette (the designer's internet-famous cat) dodging dogs to collect Karl Koins in order to win prizes.
While institutions might not have access to the same level of budget that big consumer brands have to spend on high-profile gaming tactics, you can still incorporate many gamification principles into smaller content marketing campaigns.
Universities looking to tap into the gaming trend without parting with vast amounts of cash could look to social media to deliver competitions and challenges that give a nod to popular video games. For example, challenging prospective students to compete against current students in simple quizzes or sports challenges is a great way to make them feel welcome and like a part of the family before they've even applied.
One institution which is already seeing high engagement levels from a gamified approach to student recruitment is Billy Blue College of Design at Torrens University in Australia. The university teamed up with creative agencies SomeOne and Unbnd to visualize its range of available courses as 3D worlds, which prospective students are able to explore through AR and play around in using either an iOS or Android device. The campaign was supported by a TikTok ad and influencer engagement campaign that has already generated close to 1m views. Institutions are only just getting started with gamification in the student experience, but the opportunities are endless.
Creativity in student recruitment to cut through
All of the above examples offer ideas for engaging prospective students online when the competition for attention and digital fatigue is at a peak.
The basics of providing engaging content, opportunities across platforms for students to connect with institutions, and impactful events online and in person, will of course, remain paramount.
But this year, perhaps more than any year before it, institutions will need to consider tactics and measures which cut through the digital fatigue and create truly great student engagement and experiences.
If you or your team have found creative ways to combat digital fatigue and engage students online, we'd love to hear from you in the comments below.